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Drug Testing Employees: 4 Factors to Consider

Drug Testing Employees: 4 Factors to Consider

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance abuse is costing our country over $700 billion annually. Furthermore, almost three-quarters of all illegal drug users are actively employed either full or part time, which means that a large amount of the cost comes back on small businesses due to lower productivity, increased absenteeism, and on-the-job injuries. With numbers like these, it is easy to see why drug testing can be so beneficial to small business owners looking to protect themselves and their business.

For starters, it can prevent you from hiring a drug user and/or abuser if you engage in pre-employment screening. Plus, do random testing on your employees and it may deter them from abusing these substances while in your employ. It also creates a safer work environment and may even qualify you for discount programs through your Workers’ Compensation carrier.

However, despite all of these advantages, drug testing employees is not an easy decision to make for your small business. What types of factors can help you make it? After reaching out to Rick Kirby, General Manager at Lapeer Alcohol & Drug Screening (LADS), it appears that there are four primary ones.

Factor #1: Your Employee Liability Risk

Some small businesses have more liability than others when it comes to ensuring that their employees are drug-free. For instance, if you employ over-the-road truck drivers, your liability to the community may be higher than if you provide telephone answering services that allow your employees to work from home and simply field phone calls all day. Obviously, the first scenario presents a greater potential of danger to the public, which would make drug testing in that case more beneficial than when compared to the second option.

Factor #2: What Type of Test You Can Afford

Certainly, drug testing isn’t cheap, but there are different types of tests available, allowing you to select the one that offers the best results within your budget. Here are some of your options:

  • Urine Testing. This test has been the industry standard and is generally the cheapest option available. The reason for the lower cost is that the testing can be done in-house as opposed to having to send it out to a lab (which generally only occurs if a positive result is found).
  • Saliva Testing. Saliva testing is becoming more prominent; however, the cost is more than when testing urine. The one negative of saliva testing is that it has a shorter detection period. However, the positives are that it is very reliable and is difficult to fool.
  • Hair Testing. This is one of the most expensive tests that you can get, but it is also one of the best as it can show a person’s drug use for the last 90 days. And if your employee is bald, not to worry as hair can be taken from anywhere on the body, and I do mean anywhere.
  • Blood Testing. Due to needing qualified staff to draw the blood and sending the blood to a lab, this is your most expensive option. However, like the saliva testing, this test is impossible to fool. (Some facilities offer this service and others don’t.)

Testing for alcohol is another option, but one that small businesses tend to use the least since most employees are over 21 and able to legally consume alcohol in their off time. However, if you have a position that is extremely safety sensitive, your testing options include a preliminary breath test which will show whether alcohol was consumed within the last 8 to 12 hours, a 72-hour saliva test, or an 80-hour urine test (also called an EtG screen).

Factor #3: The Type of Drugs You Want to Check For

If you decide to drug test, you need to then choose what type of drugs you want to check for. A typical five panel urine test looks for cocaine, methamphetamines, THC (marijuana), benzodiazepines, and opiates. If you choose a 10 panel test, it will provide results on these five, as well as additional opiates and amphetamines. In regard to people who test positive at LADS, roughly 90 percent are positive for THC.

Certain prescription drugs will also show up on these drug tests, but there is additional testing that can be done to ascertain whether or not they are at therapeutic levels or being abused. Also, THC levels can be checked to show whether or not the person has smoked recently since this particular drug can stay in your system for up to 30 days or more.

Factor #4: When You Would Test

Kirby estimated that their pre-employment drug tests provide positive results roughly 40 to 50 percent of the time. Additionally, one company that they did a series of pre-employment drug tests for took over 4,000 tests to find just a few hundred “clean” applicants. So, this is definitely something to think about when considering whether or not to test individuals as part of pre-employment screening.

You can also test your employees at random, which may be advantageous to help discourage employees from using and abusing illegal drugs. If you choose this route, the only thing you have to decide is whether you want to test weekly, monthly, or using some other schedule.

Some employers only refer their employees for testing when they suspect an issue, which may be an option for you to consider as well. Additionally, others mandate it if the employee has been involved in an accident or otherwise injured on the job.

Finding the Right Drug Testing Facility

If you feel that drug testing is right for your employees, you want to make sure you choose a reputable facility. Kirby recommends that you look for one that:

  • Has certified testers. Certified testers are important if you ever have to go to court and the drug testing sample is a factor in the case.
  • Tests for adulteration. It is not uncommon for drug users to try to pass off other substances as urine and this test helps prevent that from occurring.
  • Tests urine temperature. This test ensures that the urine is not someone else’s stored urine that the person being tested is trying to pass off as their own.
  • Offers monitored services. There are male and female urine carrying devices that are very lifelike that drug users can buy to try to pass drug screens. Using an agency that monitors the testing is more likely to catch this than one that does not.
  • Employs male and female employees. This one is mandatory for urine testing as the monitors must be same sex, although it isn’t as important for the other testing options.
  • Has convenient hours. If you’re sending your employees for drug testing, it may help to arrange them with an agency that has early morning or late evening hours to better accommodate your employee’s schedule.

Another thing you may want to ask about is what the drug testing agency does about prescription drug use or for those who have their medical marijuana card. Some drug testing facilities use labs that will change the positive result to a negative one if the person can provide medical documentation of the right to use the substance, whereas other labs keep a positive a positive, regardless of whether it is an authorized substance or not.

(Before deciding on drug testing employees, it is recommended that you check the laws in your area to see what options are within your rights.)



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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.